Monday, April 30, 2007

Paella and sunstroke

You know that saying that only mad dogs and Englishmen stay out in the noon day sun? It's wrong. The Spanish do as well.

Today was the big rice festival, and if there are not some old ladies in the hospital with sunstroke I will be amazed. It was hot. It was windless and it was relentlessly sunny. The Catalan old ladies do not believe in hats. I sat out in the park for about 4 or five hours today, with a hat, sunglasses, something else these ladies scorned and I still have the headache to show for it. That is 5 hours later and after a nap.


It was amazing though. We arrived early to watch the set up and the cooking. They made paella for 1600 people today. Terrie, this one's for you....1600 people. I thought of you all day. Your the only one I know who could pull this off, and do it gracefully. There was wine, water, paella, bread, flan - admittedly packaged- and then coffee, which we ran out of stamina for and were by far the first to go. Several people stopped us to mention that the meal wasn't finished, there was still coffee, but really my brain pan resembled the hotter side of Venus by then.

When we first got there they were just starting to set up, chopping onions, cleaning sepia (cuttlefish) and mussels, chopping parsley, almost a field of it I think, and red peppers. They hadn't levelled the pan or started the fire yet.

Here's the pan they cooked it in, quite something isn't it. The little one said to me that they could cook her in it. I pointed out that they could probably cook her entire class in it.

This is the venue early on, they added at least as many tables and chairs again as you can see.

They got the fire going under the pan with a little oil in it, and then let it get hot. After about 15 min or more they added the oil. That is a 4 liter bottle, I counted 5 of them being poured in and I may have missed some.

This is the sofreigit....the absolutely necessary beginning for most Catalan dishes and definitely for paella. It is onions, red peppers, parsley and garlic. There are other versions, but I believe that is the is cooked down for at least 20 minutes, but usually longer.

Here they are stirring it....that is quite the spoon. It looks a great deal like the oars for the galleys in the marine museum frankly. Indeed it may well have started as the oars from the local fishing vessels....thought they also may have come from old bread ovens...they have tools like that for bread, and the name escapes me. Something like slips...or slides?

A small part of the mussel cleaning crew, there were about 10 of them, although more came later, and they were at it for at least 2 hours. In full sun. Eeeeh gads.

They were passing this around and it seemed to be bottomless. It must have been even hotter by the pan.

Un cervesa por favor...

Now they have added most of the meat. We had sausages, meat, I think beef, cuttle fish, squid, rabbit and chicken. The mussels went in later. As a gesture towards vegetables there were some peas in it, and of course pureed tomatoes.

The place is filling up...they put out still more tables, and we were not one of the people with umbrellas. *gack* They went around at about this point and gave every group two bottles of water and one of wine. A pretty sensible approach I thought. We brought our wine home, with only the man to tackle it, we decided that would be best. The water was welcome though. Some of these people were obviously seasoned veterans at this, and had umbrellas, and holders and vegetables and salads.....

Now they have added the water and they are bringing it up to heat before adding the rice. The idea of cooking for this sort of a crowd over an open fire brings me to my knees. I am so bad at it, and so inexperienced, I would be so unsure that it would turn out well...I mean imagine burning it, or under cooking it, or worse still, giving food poisoning to 1600 people. They made it look easy though.

A close up of the contents of the pan....looks like a real witches brew...

In goes the rice. They poured in at least eight boxes this size. I will confess I lost count though. I don't know how many tens of pounds of rice that is.

I have to confess that by the time we got the food I forgot to take a picture of the finished product. About thirty minutes before the food was ready to be served, there was some sort of cattle call that we missed and most of the crowd formed a massive line, some of them being civilised about it, and most of them elbowing in and brazenly butting the line. I was amazed that nobody seemed to get upset. I was so horrified by the whole thing that we broke it to the kids that they might not get to eat any at all I was so unwilling to get into the middle of all that, instead if we didn't get any we would go to a local restaurant and have a treat before going home. After a while though the line opened up and most of the most maleducat - bad educated would be the translation, but it is ruder, more like 'rude pigs' had gone through it turned into a fast enough moving mass that I was willing to try. I got in the line, and then the man joined me near the front. There was only about 5 minutes of full body squash with people all around. One way to get intimate with a lot of Catalans in a hurry, and then we were squirted out the other side with our food which was good. Not the best I'd had, but definitely good.

We were frankly wilting by then, and packed up to head home when a couple of kids from the youngest's class showed up and hung around tongue-tied. That led us to wait long enough to realise that flan was coming. We waited and ate that. We were approaching death from heat stroke by this point, the Catalans however were settling in for a chatty and leisurely meal. We gave up. The only ones to go. The man stayed with youngest so she could play with her friends, and eldest and I bailed. Explaining repeatedly that we didn't want coffee...I almost stayed to see how they were going to serve 1600 picky coffee drinkers at the same time. There were not going to be any of those big urns of perc. like N. Am. ah well.

Tonight we have another correfoc, this one for adults...starts at 10 pm *sob* followed by a band until midnight...then another band in another venue until dawn, at which point they will be handing out coca - a kind of cake - to everyone left standing. Sorry folks, but we are skipping this, although I can hear the band warming up right now.

More tomorrow.

I am getting pretty tired.

Oh, I almost forgot, Chuck and I saw the sweetest little rabbit up in the mountains this morning...perfectly still until he saw that we were both staring then off he went. No camera with me, but all told, there are enough pictures here as it is.


Beth said...

Oh no, I love all the pictures!

I can't imagine cooking for 1600 people! that pan was amazing!

god, I want to come and visit you so bad!

Beth said...

I love your sense of humour that comes through in these fabulous and informative posts - i.e. your imagination running wild - giving "food poisoning to 1600 people."

Glad you got some before passing out from heatstroke!

oreneta said...

Beth: 1600 people truely boggles the mind, I start to sweat at about 10!

Beth: But really, it would be like the world's worst pic-nic disaster!